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Did you know that parents' network contacts can compensate for poor apprenticeship opportunities due to regional market conditions, but do not improve opportunities for low-educated youth?

April 2023

Social capital is often seen as an important resource during job search. Referrals by acquaintances, friends, or relatives to potential employers can improve the opportunities of getting a job. Young people looking for an apprenticeship in the dual system of vocational education and training in Germany, often have to go through similar search processes as job seekers in the labor market. Surprisingly, however, referrals by network contacts do not increase the chances of getting an apprenticeship per se. Who then relies on referrals as apprenticeship search strategy and why?

ISS-researcher Paula Protsch (also Federal Institute for Vocational Education and Training) investigated this question together with Matthias Flohr (WZB Berlin) in her project funded by the German Research Foundation. Drawing on data from the German National Educational Panel Study (NEPS), this study investigated whether parental referrals are used more often in the search for an apprenticeship when opportunities are limited due to regional circumstances or lower levels of schooling, and whether such recommendations make a successful search more likely under these conditions. Relatives can usually only establish contacts to a limited range of occupations, which do not necessarily correspond to individual interests. For this reason, the researchers examined in an additional step whether parental referrals are associated with a higher risk of apprenticeship dropout.

The results show that young people in regions with poorer labor market conditions are more likely to make use of parental referrals and are also more likely to find an apprenticeship in this way. In addition, using network contacts does not lead to higher dropout-risks. Thus, drawing on network contacts, if available, can compensate for poor opportunities due to regional conditions. This is not the case for young people with lower levels of schooling. Although they also more frequently rely on parental referrals, they do not benefit more from this search strategy than those with intermediate secondary school-leaving certificates.